Thursday, December 18, 2008

More on Hill

As has been pointed out, 'Scenes from Comus' does indeed reference a masque (and also references Hugh Wood's music based on 'Comus') and does so in a way that could be said to be equivocal about the power relations involved in presenting a masque to a powerful patron. There's a good discussion of this in Signals magazine. As to whether a single line should be taken out of context, the answer is, probably not, so here's the whole stanza:

With splintering noises the ancient tannoy
celebrates more delay like a bequest
or benefaction long overdue.
An ordinary day, one more rehearsal.
Ducking and weaving, the last flight goes in,
the voice of reason maddens with its fear;
voices of prophesy assail the dead.

In the previous two or three stanzas, 'I' and 'me' is used, and as the above seems to be set in an airport (
or at least a metaphorical one), we can assume it's the poet-narrator persona who is speaking here, and in the context, I think we can say that the line 'the voice of reason...' does seem to be ambivalent about reason itself (or at least that's a possible interpretation). Much of this long poem is didactic in style, and the poet-narrator makes what appears to be personal statements of opinion about things, including (as in much of Hill's late poetry) old-age:

implausible, credible muse
whom I assuage by night


Where are we sans our lovers, you name the place?
The place itself if common; I have been here many times and enough.

So, in this context, the line about being a 'portal for the heirarchies' can reasonably be interpreted as being statement about what the poet-narrator would like to be. Hill is Professor Emeritus of Literature and Religion, and, of course, religion is all about hierarchies.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Some Thoughts On Geoffrey Hill

As it was John Milton's 400th birthday last week, I re-read some of his poetry, including 'Lycidas' and 'Comus'. This led me to Geoffrey Hill's 'Scenes from Comus' which I've had for some time, but not got round to reading. I've read Hill's poetry, on and off, since the days of 'Mercian Hymns'; the solidity and musicality of his language appeals to me, and if I took the trouble - particularly with the later works - of tracking down the Biblical, literary and other references, I'd probably get even more out of it.


The edition of 'Scenes from Comus' that I have comes with a front-cover endorsement from none other than Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury (not sure what Milton would have thought if he'd been told that bishops were still around 350 years after he campaigned to get rid of them). It struck me that much of Hill's style may stem from the fact that - like the said Arch Bishop - he is a very clever, highly educated man, who nevertheless holds a belief-system, Anglican Christianity, which is difficult - some would say impossible - to justify in the face of current scientific knowledge. So Hill and Williams, in trying to avoid sounding like fundamentalists, are led into extreme subtlety and complexity. Indeed, a recent speech of the Archbishop's concerning Sharia Law was so subtle that it was misconstrued by almost everyone who heard it.

Not that there's anything wrong with subtlety and complexity, it's just that in Hill, it sometimes feels like it's being used to mask some umpleasant sentiments. So, in 'Scenes from Comus', where the speaker is talking of contemporary culture, we have lines like:

The voice of reason maddens with its fear

So becomes unreasonable? Or, it's maddening when reason is afraid? Or, more worryingly, reason is maddening because it's making people afraid? Hard to tell. Or:

The cunning is to swing it, be a hinge

of the unhinged time. At the very worst
gaping on all, missing what pillage finds;
at best a portal for the heirarchies.

The bit about being a hinge is just a Yeatsian superiority complex - everyone's unhinged except him and a select few of his friends. But 'portal for the heirarchies'! What on earth does that mean? It sounds impressive, mystical even (unless you're thinking of an internet portal), but... come off it Geoffrey! Are you saying that 'the best' would be some prophet - like yourself - dispensing wisdom from those higher in the hierarchy? Hardly a very subtle idea after all, though veiled in bardic tones.

But... I'll continue to read Hill - just as I read Pound - and enjoy passages like these:

The small oaks crest the ridge, the sun appears
cresting this instant; their topmost ranks take fire
and vaporize
or find some other form
wherewith to be
not of this world.
How can I tell you? -
dawn after dawn,
immeasurable taking up
of dross and dying.

To conclude, here's a slightly tongue-in-cheek review of Hill's "Speech! Speech!" which I wrote for Poetry Nottingham in 2002:

Geoffrey Hill's position in contemporary poetry can be compared to Milton, after the collapse of his ideals and the restoration of the monarchy, raging at the world around him. Hill is reviled by both the avant-garge and traditionalist camps, and for that reason alone, 'Speech! Speech!' ought to be read; that it will not be by many is due to the spectre of Difficulty. And there can't be anyone who would not find this poem difficult. A comparison with that other poet renowned for his opacity, J.H.Prynne, is instructive. Prynne's work cannot be deciphered by following up allusions and references or using scholarly resources. His technique is to resist this, and deliberately bewilder and disorientate his readers, thus (the theory goes) forcing them into a new accommodation with language. Hill is less elliptical than Prynne, more didactic (even, in this book, to the point of telling readers which syllables to stress, by accenting them), and ultimately more authoritarian. Hill's poetry is made difficult by the mass of learning applied to it, in the manner of Pound. But a reader who was diligent enough to do the research, could decipher most of it.

And what would the meaning be, after such explication? A not-too-subtle hint is that there are 120 stanzas:

As many
As the days
that were | of SODOM

Leaving aside the worrying thought that a twentieth century intellectual might approve of the god of the Old Testament and what he did to the city of Sodom, the persona in these poems is that of the grand poet/scholar railing at those too ignorant or boorish to appreciate Beauty/Modern Poetry/Their Fallen Ways:

Erudition. Pain. Light.
Imagine it great
unavoidable work;
although: heroic
a non-starter, says PEOPLE.

Hill's speech can be linguistically exciting, and there are even flashes of dark humour (the title alludes to our modern addiction to being centre-stage for our 15 minutes of fame). But he presents a mystical vision of England, drawing on Bunyan and Blake, that many will find disturbingly nationalistic. The main theme of the poem is the familiar high-modernist one;that the modern world is a mess; that the ignorant masses have usurped cultural life; that popular culture is worthless; that an enlightened few are struggling to maintain high standards against a flood of mediocrity. You may not agree with this, basically right wing, view. I don't. But, as ever with poetry, it's not what you say, it's how you say it.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

John Bloomberg-Rissman's long poem 'No Sounds Of My Own Making', which was published by Leafe Press in 2007 is now also available on-line as a single column of text (it comes to 200 pages in book form). It's accompanied by an illuminating essay by Karla Kelsey. It's good to see this fine piece of work being made available like this. Congrats to JBR.

Friday, November 28, 2008

And then there's this sort of thing, also from Tender Buttons:

A no, a no since, a no since when, a no since when since, a no since when since a no since when since, a no since, a no since when since, a no since, a no, a no since a no since, a no since, a no since.

The only way I can read this is to speak it aloud, as a type of sound-poetry, somewhat along the lines of Hugo Ball and the DaDa movement, though Tender Buttons was published two years before the DaDa manifesto. Amazing. A true original.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Here are some short poems:


A blue coat is guided guided away, guided and guided away, that is the particular color that is used for that length and not any width not even more than a shadow.


I had angst


Above his head clanged
And there were no dreams in this sleep
Over this table


rather than melt the ice passes through my hand
i pass through another way
dead surrounded by white
light flowers out


A color in shaving, a saloon is well placed in the centre of an alley.


Enthusiastically hurting a clouded yellow bud and saucer, enthusiastically so is the bite in the ribbon.

Recognise them? The second and third poems were written by Ted Berrigan in the 1970s, the fourth was written by Tom Raworth in the 1960s, and the others were written by Getrude Stein, a woman born 134 years ago, and who published these poems in 1914. The poems in 'Tender Buttons' wouldn't be out of place in a poetry collection written now, and they seem to prefigure a lot of contemporary work, including LANGUAGE poetry and much of what we'd currently call post-modernism. All of the poems above, by their very abstraction, are questioning the relationship between language and the world - a contemporary preoccupaton, but not in 1914 (I'm ready to be contradicted here). It strikes me that Ezra Pound now reads like a great poet from another era, while Gertrude Stein reads like a great contemporary.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hotel February


Alan Baker

£4/$8 (postage free - contact Leafe Press in the UK). pub. Bamboo Books. Cover image, Bob Rissman. Stapled pamphlet.

Read a poem from this pamphlet on Todd Swift's blog.

Friday, November 14, 2008

I've been reading Gertrude Stein's 'Picasso' to while away the evenings in my hotel this week. It's quite something: a highly personal and insightful description of Picasso's life and work (at least up to the 1930s). It's also a triumph of style: plain, direct and yet with a clever use of punctuation, mainly using commas where you'd expect a full-stop, that throws you slightly, and makes you read more carefully. Her comments and asides on art, history and psychology are masterful:

"The spirit of everybody is changed, of a whole people is changed, but mostly nobody knows it, and a war forces them to recognise it because during a war the appearance of everything changes very much quicker, but really the whole change has been accomplished, and a war is only something which forces eveyone to recognise it. The French revolution was over when war forced everybody to recognise it, the American revolution was accomplished before the war, the war is only a publicity agent which makes everyone know what has happened, yes, it is that."

That final "yes, it is that" clinches it: giving the impression that she is talking to herself, that she has just realised something as she speaks/writes.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Having described the poet Abdellatif Laâbi as a "Morrocan francophone poet" I found this statement by him in an interview in Double Change magazine

"I don't really like the term 'Francophone.' Aside from the fact that it's politically charged, the term is reductive. It's a means of confining very diverse literary experiences, each of which are distinct, into a singular issue with language."

Laâbi argues that Maghrebian, African, and Caribbean literature in French has parallels with writers like Milan Kundera (Czech, writing in French) and Salman Rushdie (Indian-origin, writing in English), and that they constitute a new kind of literature emerging from the peripheries.

The whole enlightening interview can be found here.

Friday, November 7, 2008

I meant to mention the poetry/artwork by Ed Baker which is now available on Litter, soon to be followed by poetry from Morrocan poet Abdellatif Laâbi, in a new translation by American Gordon Hadfield. Work is hectic at the moment. After the delights of John and Kathy's visit and our French holiday, it's back to the grind. I'm working in Bracknell, Berkshire this week, next week in Prague (an improvement on Bracknell, admitedly), then, I hope at home to catch up.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I might add to my previous post, that the charming provincial towns of France idealised in my last post saw large-scale and prolonged riots in 2005 by sections of the population that official France likes to pretend don't exist. Toulouse was a scene of burning cars, smashed windows and police baton charges. The situation was worsened by the inflamatory statements of the Interior Minister, who became a divisive hate-figure before he was elected President by a different section of the population.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Just spent a week in south-west France on a family holiday - took the cheap Ryanair flight to Carcassonne. We took a day trip by train from there to Toulouse. Cold, wet and windy, just like home, Carcassonne's 14thC fortress tremendously impressive, the town like something out of Madame Bovary - what little was there closed after 6pm, and it felt very provincial (tho welcoming and relaxed). Watching vast flocks of starlings circling the town in the dusk to roost in the trees of the main square, as shop-keepers closed their shutters and took their wares indoors, it occured to me that one of the attractions of France to certain English people - myself included - is nostalgia; partly, I think, for a time when Britain was not totally at the mercy of the free market. Carcassonne was full of small family businesses and locally owned patisseries and cafés - not a Starbucks or Cafe Nero in sight. In Toulouse I found several excellent independent bookshops of the type that have simply disappeared from the UK. One in particular had a huge stock, and I managed to pick up books by two poets I'm interested in - the Morroccan francophile poet Abellatif Laâbi, and Edmond Jabès. What with John BR's book delivery last week, I don't know when I'm going to find the time to read all this stuff.

Friday, October 24, 2008

My family and I had the considerable pleasure this week of playing host to John Bloomberg-Rissman and his wife Kathy on part of their UK vacation. We did the tourist things, like visiting Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, that we don't normally get to do. John does a good job of keeping me up to date with developments in American poetry, and he arrived with a gift of a pile of books, some of which I'll maybe get round to reviewing, or at least mentioning at some point. They were:

Ron Silliman, "The Alphabet" (a 1000-page life's work)
Lyn Hejinian, "My Life"
Christian Bok, "Euonia"
Hannah Wiener's Open House
Jared Schickling, "Submissions"
Donna Stonecipher, "Souvenir de Constantinople"
Gertrude Stein, "A Reader" ed. Ulla E. Dydo

Plenty to get my teeth into there. The last book mentioned should cure my shamefully superficial knowledge of Gertrude Stein, a writer who seems bigger and more important the more I find out about her.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The BBC recently reported on one Ammon Shea, who spent a year reading the Oxford English Dictionary - 20 volumes, 21,730 pages and 59 million words. Here are Mr. Shea's thoughts on the experience, with the word 'dictionary' replaced by 'poem':

"I've always enjoyed reading poems and they are far more interesting than people give them credit for. And I think everything you find in a great book you would find in a great poem, except for the plot.

"All the normal emotions - grief, happiness and loss - exist in a poem but not necessarily in the order that you would think."

The article includes a quote from Auden: "For a desert island, one would choose a good dictionary rather than the greatest literary masterpiece imaginable, for, in relation to its readers, a dictionary is absolutely passive and may legitimately be read in an infinite number of ways."

That last phrase could easily have been used by one of our more innovative poetry practitioners to describe their poetry - the notion that the reader of a poem is at least as responsible for the meaning as the writer. This got me thinking, in a digressive way, about Auden's poetry. I've thought for some time that his repudiation of poems like 'Spain' and 'September 1 1939' was wrong-headed in the sense that it regarded the poem's literal message as paramount. If one believes that a poem can be "legitimately read in an infinite number of ways", then it doesn't make sense to repudiate a poem because of its literal message. Nevertheless, I admire Auden for his moral stance.

This train of thought brings to mind another poet, one whose achievement seems ever more slender with the passing years: T.S. Eliot. I've always thought it shameful that Eliot never publicly renounced the anti-semitic passages in his early poetry. I appreciate of course, that my views on this may contradict my previous views on Auden, and that there seems no easy answer to this vexed question, which raises the further question of whether poetry, made out of language, can ever really be divorced from the "real world" and the things it references.

Monday, September 29, 2008

As you'll see from the previous post, John Bloomberg-Rissman is now an editor of Leafe Press. As Leafe is about as small as a publisher can be, John being an editor simply means that he and I will be able to discuss possible projects and to pool ideas. At the same time we'll each be free to produce short-run pamphlets (at our own expense and effort) in our respective countries under the Leafe Press imprint. I'm very pleased to have teamed up with John in this way; he is a friend of mine and a long-time correspondent, and is full of ideas and enthusiasms.

Our first joint undertaking is likely to be the publication in book form of the project currently underway on his blog - in which various contributors create transformations of Eileen Tabois' poem 'The Secret Life of an Angel' (which is itself a response to a poem by Fillipino poet Jose Garcia Villa). Anyone who'd like to contribute to the project should contact John.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

News Flash!!

Markets boosted as Warren Buffett invests $5bn in Goldman Sachs

Publishing sector bullish as John Bloomberg-Rissman joins the board of Leafe Press as editor and executive director.

Alan Baker retains his position as editor of Litter and managing editor of the press. The pair will be meeting to discuss strategy later this month in their European HQ in Nottingham.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The minimum page count for a P-O-D book from Lightning Source is 80 pages, which means you need 70 pages of poetry to fill a book. As P-O-D has also made pamphlet production seem uneconomical, the result has been that poets find themselves having to bulk out collections in order to get them in print. I can't be the only one that's noticed that some collections seem padded with less-than-excellent work. Of course I'm far too diplomatic to name names...

Before print-on-demand technology a standard poetry book from, say, Faber, was 64 pages. With title pages etc, this meant that there may only have been around 50 pages of poetry. It was common for collections to be even shorter. I have a copy of Lee Harwood's 'Landscapes' (Fulcrum) from 1969: 37 pages of poetry. Larkin's 'High Windows' (Faber), 1974: 33 pages. None of W.S. Graham's collections were anywhere near long enough to fill a P-O-D book, except possibly 'Implements in their Places', which runs to 60 pages in the Collected.

Conclusion? Well, I was only making an observation; but one thing that occurs to me is that pamphlets are more important than ever, as they allow poets to get work out during the five years or more it might take to put a full collection together. If that sounds self-congratulatory (as a pamphlet-publisher) I can only say that I've only brought out two pamphlets (by Kelvin Corcoran and Carrie Etter) in the last 3 years, which isn't really good enough. But there's good stuff coming from Oystercatcher Press, Barque Press, West House and others, all of whom need our support.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Alistair Noon recently questioned, in an email to me, whether the technique of "found poetry" is capable of producing "great" poetry, as opposed to merely good poetry (sorry Alistair for what is probably a travesty of what you actually said). I wondered, what is "great" poetry? Is a great poem one that has influenced a lot of other poetry? Is it one which defines its age (but then, does that means it's tied to its age)? Or is it the opposite - one which somehow seems relevant across different historical periods and different cultures?

As far as influence goes, is that a function of having a small number of poets compared to the population at large (in the past, coming from a literate minority)? There are a vast number of practising poets today, at least in the Anglo world, and probably in the developed world generally, and a fragmentation of poetic practises and communities. In those conditions, how does a single poem or poet influence enough people, or be representative enough to be considered "great".

These half-formed thoughts were prompted by visiting Ed Baker's site, and finding there some startlingly good poetry (I read a chapbook called "The City" - and will be back for more). I'd come across Ed's name, but not his poetry, and it just struck me that in different circumstance - say, if there were fewer people writing poetry, and it was given greater prominence by society in general, then a poetry as good as Ed Baker's might have had a very different fate (I mean to the fate of being read only by other poets wired into that particular scene).

Afterthought: It does seem to me that "found" poetry, cut-up or collage could all be capable of producing "great" poetry in the sense that it defines its age. The poetry of, say, Tony Lopez or Giles Goodland appropriates and makes lyric work out of the all-powerful language of the mass media. In the sense that it also mimics the internal dialogue or "noise" of the mind it may also be representative in a way that appeals to a wide range of people.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Not the Full Story - six interviews with Lee Harwood

I've been slowly working my way through this book, with Harwood's Collected to hand to look up the poems he talks about. The interviews, conducted by Kelvin Corcoran, discuss the work in chronological order, with a times, a certain reticence, or unwillingness to be drawn on Harwood's part, which leads to some amusing exchanges:

KC: ...'Desert Phone'... begins "my heart melts at the sound of your voice, the sight of your words", that's a very striking beginning.

LH: I don't think so.

KC: You're wrong.

LH: I see it as a literal series of events.

KC: But that's why it's striking...

This book has given me quite an insight into Lee's work, especially in relation to the early poetry, to his university days and to the early period in Soho and Brighton. He also discusses the influence of an F.T. Prince, who was a mentor during this period. It's fascinating to hear him discussing the poem, 'Summer', which he can't now remember writing, quite objectively as if it were someone else's poem; which in a sense, it is, as no-one in their sixties is the same person they were in their twenties.

Friday, August 22, 2008

from The Book of Random Access


Sanitise your shoes here! Lightweight scooters to fit in the boot of your car. You'll love our Halloween trick-or-treat bag. [modern] folkloric evidence [may not] reflect how the holiday might have changed; these rituals may not be "authentic" or "timeless" examples of pre-industrial times. Halloween was perceived as the night during which the division between the world of the living and the otherworld was blurred, so spirits of the dead and inhabitants from the underworld were able to walk free on the earth. The tang of coffee, the cold, bright morning air, makes you feel alive. Dazzling sun on car windows on the A52. I feel good, I knew that I would now. James Brown is dead. The A52 is gridlocked. Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, they've all come to look for America. They've come to sanitise their shoes, to buy new scooters, to look for England. I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes. Resonant rumour of sun, impulse of summer. The tang of coffee, the bright morning air, and I'm dreaming that the lost children walk again in the sun, as close as pain, unreachable as those in pain, as all-pervasive as waters rising over the crumbling shores of the eastern counties; fields under water after centuries, the contours of the land made strange. And yet some say that time is like a small harbour on the Atlantic coast, a sea breeze tugging the sails. Let's go, and look for the living; longitude and magnitude, master mariners all.


Outside, it's well below freezing but the coffee in here tastes good. SMS: Hi, hope u r feeling OK. Looking forward to seeing u 2morrow. Love Dadx. Everyone I know leads a life that has no time in it. Not literally, of course, that would be impossible. But a three hour journey down the motorway, a meeting, catch up on some emails, then head to the hotel and prepare a presentation for tomorrow? The Christmas trees in the car park and faery lights on the bushes have voices like female TV presenters; low and musical, authoritative, but ultimately insincere. I know it all. I'm learning to leave my history at the door and to think uncontrollably at the most inconvenient times of the world my enemy, my friend, my teacher. It's a state of mind, home. From my hotel window I watch a car with dark windows take the corner very fast, almost losing control, then screech off into the night. The position and the velocity of an object cannot both be measured exactly, at the same time, even in theory. The very concepts of exact position and exact velocity together, in fact, have no meaning in nature. Ordinary experience provides no clue of this principle. My enemy, my friend, my teacher. It's her I'm thinking of. Without her I'd be nothing. A speck in the infinite. Of course, the behaviour of matter and radiation on the atomic scale often seems peculiar, and the consequences of quantum theory are accordingly difficult to understand and to believe.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


(This sentence was written in an email to me from John Bloomberg-Rissman, 15th Aug '08)

Friday, August 15, 2008


Suddenly the firewall has come down (!) & at last I can peruse Litterbug in my lunch-hour. Doing so, I found myself being drawn in to the thread of debate/discussion about J H Prynne. In particular I was intrigued by the excerpt from ‘Field Notes’. Now, you know me, Alan, I’m not against the complex; in fact I’m a regular enthusiast. But I have to say the Prynnean disquisition on the word ‘Behold’ takes the proverbial biscuit (if not the piss). It strikes me all Prynne is actually saying here is that Wordsworth is using the word ‘Behold’ when he can’t, in fact, behold the ‘solitary Highland Lass’, because she isn’t physically there anymore. Wow! Wot a revelation. For my five cents Wordsworth probably wrote ‘Behold’ because it was a contemporary exhortation to mentally picture something. (In other words he’s saying ‘Look!’) And there’s also a bit of alliteration at play in ‘Behold her’.

And this business about how being a writer ‘is to be authorised to compose by backwards displacement into the site where what is to be now composed had then its germinal origin.’ Doesn’t this simply mean writers write about things they can remember? I think it does, you know.

In a later post you pose the question (rhetorically, I appreciate): to what does ‘Fissile drag under gang profile’ refer? I’d hazard – nothing at all. It’s deploys absolutely standard Prynne tropes: appropriated technical language set so as to emphasise its musicality (‘the ‘ile’ of ‘fissile’ to rhyme with the ‘ile’ of ‘profile’ – enclosing the short hard ‘a’s of ‘drag & ‘gang’). It puts me in mind a bit of what Pound’s always up to in the Cantos – that is, cutting & pasting from a set of standard components. In the Cantos these are palaces, terraces, columns, clouds, green seas, rocks, the sea under the rocks, the rocks under the sea, more columns, more clouds etc etc. Sometimes this produces exceedingly haunting & beautiful things; but mostly it doesn’t.

It’s all very confusing, isn’t it? Especially for those of us with jobs who only get the chance to think about such things in our lunch-hours.

Like you, I’m rather taken (in?) by the early Prynne. My head gets sort of turned by the modernist dash & swagger of it. The later stuff gives me a headache.

C. J. Allen

Monday, July 28, 2008


by Mark Goodwin
(pub. Shearsman Books)

I'm currently reviewing this for Staple, and enjoying it. Readers of Litter will have seen Goodwin's work there; as an editor, it struck me as distinctive, and as something which didn't fit into any current trend. The book includes a homage to Peter Redgrove and an endorsement by Penelope Shuttle, and there are certainly echoes of both those poets, as well as resemblances to the crafted verse of someone like Richard Cadell:

My crown's leaves curl
Sea's screams. The chisel
of my blood bit
out whole season's to rid
mere millimetres
of unwanted medium...

As befits this diction, some poems have elements of the Anglo-saxon riddle, while others are contemporary pastoral, incorporating social comment into close observation of the natural/semi-urban world. It's an impressive debut from a poet who I'm sure has more up his sleeve.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

John Welch, whose Collected Poems and most recent book of prose reflections have just been published by Shearsman, has some work on Litter.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hre's a snatch of email conversation between John Bloomberg-Rissman and myself.


Re: Prynne, I’m not sure if he writes “pure” poetry, if by that you mean entirely non-referential poetry. I think, rather, that his stuff is referential, but that the references change mid-sentence, sometimes mid-phrase. It recalls my experience of Finnegans Wake, if only in the sense that when I read the Wake, each time I said aha, firm ground, that ground turned out to be cloud and shifted right out from under me.

Prynne’s definitely hermetic, not in the sense of hermetically sealed, but in the sense of “obscure”. But it never feels like nothing’s going on; it feels rather like the opposite.


Your comments are spot-on. Is it possible to write "entirely non-referential poetry"? I doubt it. And your comment that "the references change mid-sentence, sometimes mid-phrase" is exactly right, and that's why it's the opposite of nothing going on. Prynne's book on Wordsworth bears this out - it opens out Wordsworth's poem, broadens its reference, or rather points out that it's reference is "the world" in which it was written and exists. The way he expands on a single word, writing mini-essays on the connections to bonded labour, enclosure, the perception of music in the early 19thC, etc, is analogous to the way his own poems change reference, or maybe add new layers of reference, almost from one word to the next.

Friday, July 18, 2008

After my previous post on J.H. Prynne and John Bloomberg-Rissman's response to it, I went off and re-read Prynne's 'For the Monogram' (1997) and 'Pearls that Were' (1999). While this poetry is daunting, in fact baffling to most readers, if I analyse 'For the Monogram', it does become apparent that two techniques are involved (or appear to be - I could be wrong): first, cut-up, in the sense that sentences or phrases are chopped to produce a disjunctive effect; second, unnattributed quotation or borrowing (or possibly fake quotation). An example of the second is found in stanza 3, which resembles a spec for a computer program, albeit a form of programming that would have been antiquated in 1997:

if (set to true) a product goto top list, an object
otherwise (if else) remaining the same...

There may be other such extracts from technical sources - without any notes or attributions, it's hard to say. Who knows for example what this might refer to:

Fissile drag under gang profile

Is it it invented, or is it genuine technical jargon? While the language in 'For the Monogram' has a certain liveliness at times due to unexpected juxtaposition, I defy anyone to hold their attention on writing like this for more than a few minutes - my brain at least, can't deal with that level of abstraction in language - and overall, the whole exercise is rather heavy. It doesn't have the raciness of Raworth or the humour of Ashbery.

'Pearls that Were': when I bought this pamphlet in 1999 I remember enjoying the opening stanzas: rhyming (or half-rhyming) quatrains that had a certain pleasing lyricism, which, while abstract, gained something from the accidents of musical placing. Again, my attention wavered (another way of saying 'I got bored'?), but I was prepared to accept it as abstract lyric. Then I discovered that one of the stanzas was a spoof translation of a poem by the contemporary Chinese poet Che Qianzi. That threw me. What else was I missing? Maybe the 'abstract lyricism' was something more. At that point I gave up.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

On J.H. Prynne

A few years ago I listened to a BBC Radio programme which included a discussion of JH Prynne's poetry. Yes, I know that's hard to believe, but it did happen (since then, the Beeb have reverted to Georgian pastoral and Ian MacMillan comical). Anyway, on this programme Elaine Feinstein described Prynne as a charismatic lecturer and teacher, and she talked in glowing terms about his lectures on Wordsworth. The book quoted below, 'The Solitary Reaper: Field Notes', confirms for me that she must have been right, given that I've found it a totally absorbing and mind-expanding read. Which is not to say that it isn't intimidating and uncompromising; it has no contents or index, and the quote below is from six close-typed pages devoted to the opening word of the poem. But it's a book I recommend highly if you're prepared to put some work in.

Here's an extract, commenting on the opening of Wordsworth's poem:

Behold her, single in the field,
Yon solitary Highland Lass!

This equivocation of reference station is part of a sustained fiction from the very outset. The voice which says 'behold' supposedly on the scene of an actual encounter, exclaims this word (though probably in mind rather than out loud, if at all) only as a proleptic hostage for its textual equivalent which will be written down later, at least some time after this scene is only an image in writerly memory. The poet-traveller does not undertake instantaneous plein-air transcription, writing down these words in a notebook as a documentary record of his on-the-spot utterance (at least in thought) of their sonic equivalences. When he speaks the word 'behold' (if indeed he does) it is unnecessary, not called-for; instead, by anticipation, he will store the potential for this word as prompt for the later written claim to immediacy of regard. He will write 'behold' when no-one, (himself included) can any longer perform this beholding, except by running out a memory trace as if to be a writer is to be authorised to compose by backwards displacement into the site where what is to be now composed had then its germinal origin.

(J.H. Prynne, Field Notes: The Solitary Reaper and Others.)

As you can see, it's an incredibly detailed commentary - at times, one feels, almost absurdly detailed, or almost more than the poem under discussion can bear - touching on, among other things, poetics, musicology, ethnography and history. The second part of the book deals with related texts by other writers, including Thomas Hardy.

Reading this book sent me back to Prynne's poetry; I like the early work up to and including 'The Oval Window', though I suspect I like it partly because I've managed to find explications of it, particularly the well-known Reeves and Kerridge book on Prynne. The later work, say, from 'Her Weasels Wild Returning', I find I can't read for more than a few lines at a time. I'm not sure I understand what he's trying to do in this work. David Caddy has a piece on Prynne here, which, while good background, studiously avoids any textual analysis of the actual poetry. I have a feeling that Prynne's later poetry is important, and I feel frustrated that I'm unable to engage with it. I'm not helped in my insecurity by the fact that people as turned-on to contemporary poetry as Tony Frazer and Peter Riley have both expressed an alienation, or simply an inability to understand Prynne's poetry, and that Lee Harwood described it, in my presence, as 'rubbish', claiming that no-one in the Cambridge circle that he knew was prepared to take up his challenge to go through the text of a late Prynne poem and explain it to him. I've seen 'His Weasels Wild Returning' interpreted as being 'about' The first Gulf War, the sense of loss when a much-loved daughter leaves home, and (in Caddy's piece) as an expression of exile in its numerous guises. None of these interpretations could finally be proved (or indeed, disproved) by an analysis of the text. Maybe the whole project of Prynne's later poetry is an attempt to, as Caddy puts it, present "a deepening of the challenge to the reader, as a method of registering wider referents, on the basis that might be a focal point of social and ethical or literary change." One could argue however that, as in Pound's attempt in The Cantos to write a poem that was an explanation of Western civilization, there are probably more suitable vehicles for the project.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

There's some interesting work at John Bloomberg-Rissman's blog - a project which starts with a poem by seminal Filipino poet Jose Garcia Villa, translated by Eileen Tabios, and creates "1,000 Views" of it by transforming the original text in various ways "using methods developed by bpNichol, Steve McCaffery, David Cameron, Jackson Mac Low, John Cage, Christian Bök, Oulipo, Charles Bernstein, Bernadette Mayer, etc". John is accepting contributions from people who want to play. The project is coming along nicely with some fine visual poetry, artwork and textual shenanigins.

The idea of transforming an original text got me re-reading some of the late poetry of Theodore Enslin, in which he takes a chunk of verse and performs a series of variations on it in a way analgous to musical variations (he is also a composer). Some of this work is hypnotic and strangely moving - an effect is generated by a combination of the poem as self-contained textual unit, and by sound and rhythm - some effects only becoming apparent when the poems are read out loud. Thank you JBR for reminding me of this stuff.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Todd Swift, three of whose poems have just appeared on Litter, has descibed himself as a 'cultural activist', a term I like. I've been enjoying the following blogs, all by cultural activists, including Mr. Swift himself:

Heriberto Yepez - bi-lingual Spanish/English from this Mexican poet and writer.
Todd Swift - ever-insightful comment
Pierre Joris - lively and wide-ranging comment from Luxembourg poet/writer.
Ernesto Priego - likewise from Mexican-in-London, poet, DJ, academic and, well... cultural activist..

The last of these bloggers has tentatively agreed (well, after some badgering from me), to pen an essay on Octavio Paz for Litter, as I've recently been discussing Paz with him.

Friday, June 20, 2008

ISBNs used to be free. Now, the ISBN Agency no doubt has financial targets to meet, and they charge: £56.40 for 10! They charge £148.04 for 100, and the price for 1,000 drops to 44p each. All of which seem to unjustly penalise small presses like Leafe. My initial batch has run out, and as I've only published 20 titles in 10 years, it seems daft to purchase 100 ISBNs; but that's what I'll probably do, just because I can't bear to pay £5.64 each.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I'm pleased to have published some new poems by Andrea Brady on Litter. These are from an unpublished pamphlet-length collection called 'Presenting' which includes a lyric translated from Provençal and a poem, 'Double Exposure' with a strong visual element (beyond me to put it into HTML I'm afraid).

I've also got some interesting work from Todd Swift - a plain style combined with rhythmic repetition which I found quite powerful. Also, as stated artwork from Bob Rissman of Bamboo Books and a prose meditation by John Welch. All coming up soon.

Friday, June 13, 2008

No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, nor will we proceed with force against him, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

Magna Carta, 1215

"In the end, more than they wanted freedom, they wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all -- security, comfort, and freedom. When ... the freedom they wished for was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free."

Edward Gibbon 1737 – 1794.

As of 6.35pm on Wednesday 11th June 2008 any British citizen can be imprisoned for up to six weeks without being charged, without being told why they are being held, and without any evidence being presented against them.

Monday, June 9, 2008

West House Books
presents a reading by


as the first in a new reading series: GARGOYLE @ BANK STREET

Saturday 21st June, 8 pm
admission free
Bank Street Arts, Bank St, Sheffield S1 2DS

For details of Catherine Wagner's Leafe Press pamphlet, click here. Copies still available.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Two of my poems have just been published on nth Position. Thanks to editor Todd Swift.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Last Saturday Sam Ward and myself drove up to Sheffield to attend the opening the new Banks Street arts centre. What would normally have been a municipal evening with predictable artistic fare was transformed by the fact the the organiser was Geraldine Monk. So the evening sparkled with jazz, performance poetry with music, and excellent straight poetry readings. The highlights for me were Harriet Tarlo reading the poem 'Love/Land', a musical duo with a woman on violin and a man on trumpet (I'll have to find out who they are), a reading by Alan Halsey of a poem consisting of vernacular phrases lifted from 'Tristram Shandy' and finally, Geraldine Monk herself. The latter's set consisted of poetry transformed into a sort of primal sound, with a guy on a synthesizer as backing. Wonderful stuff.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I had trouble finding the Shearsman reading on Tuesday night, got there late and had to slip in quietly at the back. Ken Edwards gave an excellent reading, followed by Mercedes Roffé: Tony Frazer read the poems in English followed by Roffé in Spanish. It was good to meet Tony at last, and he turned out to be as relaxed and genial as I imagined him to be. I got Mercedes Roffé to sign her book for me and we chatted and exchanged addresses - so expect to see some of her work on Litter soon.

I had an panic order for some Carrie Etter pamphlets from a bookshop in Bath - she's reading there tomorrow night and the shop forgot to order. As I'm working away this week I had to call my distribution manager (my wife) and ask her to post the pamphlets by Special Delivery.

Forthcoming on Litter soon: poetry by Peter Riley, Andrea Brady and Todd Swift, and artwork by Bob Rissman

Monday, May 19, 2008

I'm sitting in an empty office trying to sort out some computer problem before I wander back to my soulless hotel. I'm stuck in Bracknell, Berkshire all week. But there's hope! Tomorrow night I'm planning/hoping to take a train into London and attend the Shearsman reading at Calders Bookshop near Waterloo. It's Argentinian poet Mercedes Roffé and UK poet Ken Edwards.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Ashbery and the Baroque

I've just re-read Ashbery's long prose poem, "The System" from his 1973 book "Three Poems": forty pages of highly-wrought prose, in which it's impossible to follow the thread of any argument for more than a few lines, and yet which is somehow a seductive, highly enjoyable read. The reader soon comes to realise that this poem is a self-contained, sealed unit. Once you stop expecting it to yield a 'literal' meaning, you can enjoy it, and, more importantly, allow it to yield up much less obvious meanings. Soon after reading the said poem I came across this description:

"... he has been criticised for his emptiness. If we substitute the work "superficiality" we are closer to his poetic conception, for he is simply attempting to construct - "counterfeit" the world of appearances. ...plot counts for very little, and the philosophical content, if it exists, counts for even less. Everything is a pretext for descriptions and digressions, and each dissolves in turn into images, antitheses, and rhetorical figures. If anything moves in the poem, it is ... the imagination of the poet. He... halts at a word or color, fondles it and prolongs it, and makes of each period an image, of each image a world. The poetic discourse flows slowly along, divides into "leafy parentheses" that are like beautiful islands, and continues to meander among landscapes, shadows, lights and realities, all of which it redeems and immobilizes... Hence, there is no conflict between substance and form because he turns everything into form, into a crystalline or tremulous, polished or undulating surface."

This is in fact Octavio Paz talking about the sixteenth century Spanish baroque poet Luis de Góngora, but it seems it could equally apply to certain periods of Ashbery's work, and certainly to the "The System" and the other works in his 1973 book "Three Poems". I'm lent support in my musings by a review of Ashbery by David Lau, in which Lau speaks of "The various baroque formal means immanent to the syntactical sublimity of what used to be called literature", which, Lau asserts "are one way of representing a frayed-beyond-repair ... hope for radical aesthetic invention". It could be argued that the baroque, at least in seventeenth century Spain, came out of the decadence of that culture in its decline. How far that may be said of Ashbery's baroque poetry in relation to our present state is a moot point.

John Bloomberg-Rissman had this to say when we discussed this subject during some email correspondence:

"Re: Ashbery, the baroque, etc. I went into LA yesterday to meet Bob and found myself w/some time on my hands before his arrival. I read a bunch of the 1st of JA’s Three Poems. While those are “of a period” and certainly not fully representative of his entire oeuvre, I’d have to say (thinking through the Three Poems lens, but trying to keep his entire career in mind) that he’s not baroque, at least not in Paz’s Góngora-sense. I think JA’s a destroyer of surfaces in that one never knows where one is. At least a destroyer of surfaces in the sense of surface relating to representation of a specific place/time “out there”, i.e., he doesn’t “"counterfeit" the world of appearances”, he renders such a world moot, because it’s constantly shifting out from under one, as in a dream. Further, while one could, however argue that in JA “there is no conflict between substance and form”, I don’t’ think that's because JA “turns everything into form, into a crystalline or tremulous, polished or undulating surface.” I think, in fact, he is actually quite expressionist in a weird way, because what keeps I can’t say one I can only say me moving through his oddly mutating language-landscapes, is the depth and truth of the emotions that somehow barnacle themselves to the flow (odd image, but somehow fitting, at least at this moment). Now that I know how to read him, and it took years, I always find his poems deeply moving. Maybe not some of the early ones, in the first few books, or at least not so much, they are in a way explorations of how far he can push beyond the conventions, (tho I know the early books are many people’s favorites). Tho that’s to periodize too much. And even many of the early ones are moving in their way."

Saturday, May 3, 2008

I've just finished reading 'Aurora' by the Mexican poet Pura López-Colomé. It's a book I've been looking forward to for some time, and I wasn't disappointed: an astringent verse and a poetry that hovers between the concrete and abstract; a concentrated writing that still gives an impression of space and light. The translation, by American poet Jason Stumpf, is fine poetry in its own right:

Day had shone
its finest robes.
the outline of its seduction
left a wall of penetrating
night sky of magnificent

With that red-hot coal
in the cave of the eye,
I heard a faint knock
at the window.
The half-open blinds
revealed a smooth
flower without omens.

The book is, of course, infused with Mexican culture; with its religion and its pre-Colombian fascination with death, and with surrealist influence. It's a surprise then to find quotes from Philip Larkin at the head of two of the poems. The quotes themselves are quite striking, and its interesting to consider how Larkin must appear through the lens of another language and without the polarization of poetry into 'left and right' that British readers inevitably bring to his work. I have seen Larkin's pessimism compared to Samuel Beckett's and bracketed into the same post-War despair and absurdism, so maybe it's not so strange to see him referenced here.

López-Colomé's book is published in the UK by Shearsman, who are doing a great job of introducing me (and many other people) to current Latin American poetry. Their next London reading, on 20th May, is by Argentinian poet Mercedes Roffé, and that's one I'm hoping to get along to.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

'What Hit Them' by Kelvin Corcoran

Oystercatcher Press, 4 coastguard Cottages, Lighthouse Close, Old Hunstanton, Norfolk, PE36 6EL, UK. Unpriced. ISBN: 978-1-905885-03-9.

Kelvin sent me this, his latest pamphlet a few weeks ago. He's in a productive phase at the moment, as this follows hard on the heels of his latest Shearsman book "Backward Turning Sea". This pamphlet is partly a response to the London South Bank's touring exhibition "Geometry of Fear", which features the group of young sculptors whose work came to prominence after the Second World War, including Lynn Chadwick, Reg Butler and Kenneth Armitage. This short collection is vintage Corcoran, with that slightly aslant view of the world and the skilful mixing of politics and lyric. It includes a nice dig at a couple of the darlings of Brit-Art:

This is not corporate art,
no diamond-studded skull
polished by the poor underground,
nor that bunk-up bed unmade
burnt in Saatchi's treasury.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Simon Turner has published one of my poems on the ezine he runs with George Ttoouli, Gists and Piths. Thank you Simon.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Carbon Atom

Sam Ward told me that Alexander Hutchison may be reading in Nottingham later this year, and as I didn't know the poet's work, Sam kindly sent me a copy of 'Carbon Atom', his 2006 collection. It's good stuff, in a Scottish tradition that that has some resemblance to his friend Gael Turnbull. It's good to read solidly crafted, earthy poetry with a clear speaking voice and a sense of humour. It's relaxing to read poetry that isn't dense, elliptical or abstract, and I thoroughly enjoyed this collection and will certainly turn up at Mr. Hutchison's reading if and when he gives one. Here's a sample:


Grass of levity
Span in brevity
Flower's felicity
Fire of misery
Wind's stability
Is mortality.

Simple utility
Fingered lubricity
Sprung from audacity
Known for rapacity
Any capacity
Is mortality.

Boundless servility
Neighbouring nillity
Primping polity
Bits of carnality
Vanity vanity
Is mortality.

What doesn't signify
Render or simplify
Impaled and crucified
Sat down or sanctified
Any identity
Is mortality.

Further and further space
Gruesome and human face
Graceless or born to grace
Here in this little space
Light in our little case
Is mortality.

[The first stanza is Anonymous and dates to 1609]
Books Received:

'What Hit Them' by Kelvin Corcoran, Oystercatcher Press.

'Carbon Atom' by Alexander Hutchison, Link-Light.

'Contains Mild Peril' by Adrian Buckner, Five Leaves Publications.

Will pontificate on each in turn...

Monday, April 7, 2008

There are some books that take me a long time to read because they deflect me onto other things. Reading Paz's 'The Labyrinth of Solitude' has got me interested in Sor Juana Inéz de la Cruz, on whom Paz was an authority, and I'm currently reading her works in the Penguin edition translated by Margeret Sayers Peden. Sor Juana was a sixteenth century Mexican nun - a most unlikely candidate for major poet, playwright, dazzling intellectual and proto-feminist, although she was all of these things. She turned her nun's cell into a sort of literary salon and amassed a huge library, and a collection of musical instruments and scientific equipment. Mexico, of course, didn't exist as such, but was part of New Spain, and in the grip of Roman Catholic orthodoxy. Sor Juana's recantation of her intellectual activities signed in her own blood soon before she died seems almost too dramatic to be true, but it is true. In an ideal and leisure-rich world I'd tackle Paz's monumental biography and study of Sor Juana. In the meantime I need to finish 'The Labyrinth of Solitude', unless it sends me off to somewhere else...

Monday, March 24, 2008

'You are Here' by Simon Turner

Simon Turner is a young (under 30) poet and this, his first collecton, arrived here last week. And very welcome it was too. It's various, unprogrammatic and shows a nice development from early work with Buntingesque phrasing and 'nature' as its subject, to work influenced by the likes of John Cage. It's also nice to see a homage, in the section Brumagem, to Roy Fisher, another poet of the English Midlands. I hope to get this book reviewed properly for Litter, but in the meantime it's good to have it, and good to see a poet starting out with an opportunity to be showcased in a substantial collection like this (over 100 pages) - nice job by Heaventree Press.

From Swifts

...Lacking patience for the sentence,
its measured pace, its clarity,
they score doodled garbles
on the skied white, body their whipped brisks
through poplarish highs & pining dwarfs
to leaf their shivered greens
with a flown and flying go

'You are Here', Simon Turner. pub. Heaventree Press, £7.99. ISBN: 978-1-906038-05-2

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Spent a couple of days in Bristol during which time I popped into Borders bookshop, which, I notice, has no poetry section! It simply doesn't appear on the store directory. Does this mean the High Street is going to get out of the poetry market altogether? Will this be a good thing for poetry? Will it mean you can only buy poetry on the Web (good news for P-O-D publishers?)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

There's a review of my Bonnefoy translation at Galatea Resurrects #9. Thanks to reviewer Christopher Mulrooney and editor Eileen Tabios.
Jacques Rogge, the bureaucrat heading the International Olympic Committe is 'glad that no country has boycotted' the Chinese games. He thinks that 'the athletes would be hurt by such an action.' Of course, the runners and jumpers wouldn't be hurt in the same way that Tibetan monks and civilians are being hurt. If Rogge were being tortured, beaten and imprisoned for his beliefs, he might be glad that some principled athletes, or even a national government was prepared to take practical action to help him.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Reading during my travels: Edward Gibbon and Octavio Paz. 'The Decline and Fall...' was recommended to me by John Bloomberg-Rissman, so I picked up the Penguin 'Great Ideas' series; Gibbon on Christianity. Pretty radical stuff. His description of the Messianic nature of early Christianity is strikingly reminiscent of certain areas of the USA today where congregations are waiting eagerly for the end of the world. John told me not to skip the footnotes, and he was right. Discussing how the early Christians regarded it their duty to oppose the idolatry of paganism (whose gods they believed were fallen angels in disguise), Gibbon adds a footnote:

"Even the reverses of Greek and Roman coins were of an idolatrous nature. Here indeed the scruples of the Christian were suspended by a stronger passion."

'The Labyrinth of Solitude' has been on my to-do list for a long time. I knew very little about Mexican history when I started it, and I couldn't have had a better introduction. It's about, for want of a better description, the nation's psyche, and consists of nine essays. In some sections there are acute insights on almost every page. In the first essay he discusses the Pachucos, the Mexican teenage gangs that emerged in southern California, and his observations could be applied to similar phenomena in the UK today; this from a book published in 1959 - well before youth culture was regarded as worthy of serious study. Here's a taste of the book - Paz discussing the relationship of art to history:

"I am not attempting to justify colonial society. In the strictest sense, no society can be justified while one or another form of oppression subsists within it. I want to understand it as a living, and therefore contradictory, whole. In the same way, I refuse to see the human sacrifices of the Aztecs as an isolated expression of cruelty without relation to the rest of that civilization. Their tearing out of hearts and their monumental pyramids, their sculpture and their ritual cannibalism, their poetry and their 'war of flowers', their theocracy and their great myths, are all an indissolube one. To deny this would be as infantile as to deny Provencal poetry in the name of the medieval serfs, or Aeschylus because there were slaves in Athens. History has the cruel reality of a nightmare, and the grandeur of man consists in making beautiful and lasting works out of the real substance of that nightmare. Or, to put it another way, it consists of transforming the nightmare into vision; in freeing ourselves from the shapeless horror of reality - if only for an instant - by means of creation."

(tr. Lysander Kemp).

Sunday, March 16, 2008

I've just returned from business trips to Copenhagen and Vienna, two destinations that compensate for the travails of travel and being away from home. Both cities have enviable public transport systems; cheap, clean and not too crowded. I arrived back at Birmingham airport from whence to take a train home to find the train absolutely packed, all the seats taken, the isles full of people standing, a group of beer-drinking youngsters making a racket at the end of the carriage and various people engaged in politely English disputes resulting from the chaotic seat reservation system. But the atmosphere is cheerful. Clinical efficiency - who needs it?

Friday, February 8, 2008

Yet - new pamphlet from Carrie Ettter


Carrie Etter

ISBN 978-0-9535401-9-8
£3.50 (U.K.) / $8.00 (U.S.)
Publication date: 23rd February 2008
For more details click here.

Here are the opening lines of this collection:

Out of the vernacular as the sky drains of light
The body heavy with a day’s work that gravity
What would it mean to aspire to transcendence?

The image of a sky draining of light asserts itelf, but we're conscious of the phrase 'the vernacular' which places us in the domain of language and abstraction. Is the vernacular referring to language, or some other art form, like painting? Either way, it implies that skies draining of light may be constructs of thought and language.

The second line, seemingly straightforward - the body heavy with a day's work - ends in mid sentence. That gravity ... then what? There's an impression of a mind heavy with a day's work that abruptly switches attention.

In the third line, the call for transcendence that is a stock-in-trade of poetry from the Romantics onwards is referenced here, but questioned, almost subverted. The rest of the poem builds on this beginning with an effective blurring of the discursive and descriptive.

This pamphlet is an exemplary mixture of political and personal, descriptive and abstract. We have a title as blunt as 'The Occupation of Iraq' and another poem giving us an amusing comment on Archbishop's radio interview. But alongside this, we have part of the continuing 'Divining for Starters' series; a set of meditative, almost philosophical pieces. That's a lot to pack in to a small pamphlet, but it doesn't feel packed, more evenly paced, unhurried. 'Yet' is highly recommended (by me), which is why I published it.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

There's an interesting (I think!) discussion of 'Englishness' going on at this blog: here. It's reminded me of how good, if a little disconcerting, it is to have this sort of discussion, which might challenge one's own world-view. About ten years ago I stumbled across the british-poets email discussion list. More sophisticated forums like Facebook have replaced these groups, and their demise was hastened by saboteurs who seemed to delight in stirring up arguments with insult and provocation until sensible people were driven away. The british-poets list (which also incorporated Irish poets, including Billy Mills and Trevor Joyce) was at the time run by the late Richard Cadell. He proved to be a warm and wise host and I'm grateful to have had the benefit of his encouragement for my writing and publishing. The group provided my introduction to innovative poetry and my education was assisted by being able to chat with the likes of Peter Riley, Douglas Oliver, Keston Sutherland, Geraldine Monk, Alan Halsey and other illustrious persons. It was all a bit ragged at the edges, but there was an openness that I think you'd be unlikely to get in a more controlled and monitored environment. I've realised while typing this that I'm getting nostalgic for the old days of email discussion groups. Better stop now.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Beginning and End of the Snow
by Yves Bonnefoy

(tr. Alan Baker)

A joint publication by Bamboo Books, Culver City, CA
and Leafe Press.

Designed by Bob Rissman (Bamboo Books).

from 'The Book of Random Access'


The things you see at 4am! Do people still have their milk delivered in glass bottles? Without my glasses the streetlights float like faery lights across the park. St. Elmo's Fire. The bushes thrash about in the wind. First person singular present tense. What else is there? I think about my father thirty years dead. John and I are not on speaking terms. I stress about work and what I have to do tomorrow. How will my children live? That's future tense. The will-o-the-wisp lights in the short-sighted dark. The long-sighted page. Is it all happening in a continuous present? he asks / asked / will ask. What time is it? All clocks moving through the ether are slowed down compared to clocks at rest in the ether. One would have to distinguish between “apparent” and “true” space and time measurements, with the further proviso that “true” dimensions and “true” times could never be determined by any experimental procedure. That clock on my wall, its numbers are blurred. Long have we parted been, lassie my dearie. I remember talking to an old man when I was a child. He was my cousin’s grandad. He said that as a young man he came to Newcastle from Yorkshire to look for work. That was in 1900. In the narrow streets near the river he was surprised to see women sitting outside their front doors, smoking clay pipes, as he'd never seen such a thing in Yorkshire. Why should I think about this at four o’clock in the morning?

Friday, January 11, 2008

I'm off to Malmo in Sweden next week on a business trip, the start of my new globetrotting existence. All this foreign travel doesn't mean I'm some sort of big-shot - far from it; I'm a mere 'technical resource' (as people like me were described on our company's website recently). Increased globalisation of companies (people in my office report to managers they've never met in Germany, Spain and the US) and cheap air travel means that instead of sending you down the road to Bradford or Mansfield they can send you to Singapore or... Malmo.

When I get back from my trip I need to get on with the latest Leafe pamphlet, a collection by Carrie Etter which I'm excited about. I also need to send out some copies of my translation of an Yves Bonnefoy collection - more on that later. I'm also working on a long prose-poem called 'The Book of Random Access' which is in 64 sections, echoing the 64 hexagrams in the I Ching, and each section has 256 words (64 and 256 being significant numbers in computing). Wow! Bet you can't wait to read it. Well, you're in luck, cause I'll be posting some excerpts here soon.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Here's a poem by Uzbek poet Yusuf Juma, about the Andijan massacre in Uzbekistan. The massacre took place on 13 May, 2005 when hundreds of unarmed protesters were killed by Uzbek security services for taking part in a demonstration against the government.

The best men of the people were shot in Andijan.
Elders like Dukchi-ishan, were shot in Andijan.

People were shot in Namangana, shot in Fergana,
the very best lions were shot in Andijan.

The blind are alive, the jackals are alive,
Sharifjan Shokurovs were shot in Andijan.

Future Babarakhin Mashrabs were killed,
tigers like Babur were shot in Andijan.

In their hearts they were wild activists, endurers of the right way,
let their graves be full of light, they were shot in Andijan.

They went off faithful to their faith, they went off with open eyes,
the earth was left without men, they were shot at Andijan.

Yusuf Yuma is currently being held by the Uzbek government without charge in an unknown location. For more information on his case, see Areopagitica. His case doesn't seem to have been taken up by Amnesty, maybe it's too recent, but there is a petition you can sign (I've signed it) here.